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Children of Hurin

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Keep in mind that the Silmarillion isn't a novel, or a collective of short stories--it's mythology.

...which, in itself, is not a recommendation. But Tolkien was not aiming for "readability," entertainment value, or ejoyability when he was writing that stuff. He was attempting to produce a work that conveyed a sense of antiquity, the allure of the vanished past -- and thematically, it was all about the sense of tragic loss that saturates human fallenness.

So you're getting the right impression of it, Nardis.

Regarding your desire for more understanding of motivation: that's a modern thing. The great mythologies of the world aren't the least bit interested in such things. So if Sil resembles, say, the Old Testament, that's deliberate.

As literature, of course, that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

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Hi, Nardis. I appreciate your contrast of the Elves in TLOTR and TS. Knowing the history of the Elves (as written in TS) gives me a greater appreciation of their disposition in TLOTR. It's as if three Ages and n-thousand years of bloodshed and heartbreak have worn down the whole Elven population to the few, remaining, sader-but-wiser Elves that we meet in the LOTR. Their overwhelming sorrow and reticence to act are understandable in light of this long history.

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Nardis,

I'm not disagreeing with any of your assessments of Sil. Not at all. I think you perceive it quite accurately, and in a way that does justice to what Tolkien was trying to accomplish. I just wouldn't call that a "failure" just because it doesn't appeal to you. I'd call it a success that doesn't appeal to you.

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I've only read TS once, waaay back in high school, but I remember enjoying it because of all the dark passages and stories. This is not necessarily because I was in that dark and depressive stage of youth, but because I've always been attracted to stories that are tragic and characters who are heroic in spite of all that. Granted, not all the characters here are heroic, but enough faced those incredible odds with some form of heroism that I was impressed. And of course, it's such beautiful storytelling how a couple small, inconsequential hobbits succeeded in ultimately bringing peace where all these much greater humans and dwarves and elves have failed. Sure, we get a good sense of that just reading LOTR, but with TS I find it all the more profound. In fact, when I reread LOTR a couple years ago, that final part where Sam and Frodo are trekking across Mordor brought me to tears more than once despite it's repetitious, plodding pace.

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Tolkien's trade set him up to believe that for every language, there must be a corresponding "race." (This theory/means of classification has only recently fallen out of favor.) If you proceed from this basis alone (in philology), you end up with some pretty disturbing conclusions - add the popular ideas re. British "racial purity" to it and, well, the insistence on the blood of Numenor and "lesser men" is scarily clear.

This is truly the most productive line of inquiry related to the issue of race, Middle-earth, and the contemporary world. Some things to remember on the subject: First, there are several distinct language groups in Middle-earth that represent the "good guys" (if we grant that there are even such things amongst Tolkien's fallen beings): the three houses of the Elves (each with its distinct dialect), the Numenoreans, and the Rohirrim; each has their merits and their shortcomings. Second, the "Common Speech" is the tongue of none of these, and is probably most closely associated with Hobbits. Third, Tolkien invented his world as a "mythology for England," and there's no possible way to suggest that even the Common Speech of the Third Age is somehow a linguistic predecessor of the English tongue. So if anything, Tolkien's fiction champions British culture, but suggests that the best, purest cultures were much older and much more distinct. I think.

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And look how Teutonic the Rohirrim are - like some sort of ideal Saxons, Angles and Jutes. Really, all those references to Numenoreans versus "lesser men" bug the living daylights out of me!

I don't disagree with you at all, Ellen -- and believe it or not, those kinds of things bug the heck out of me, too, though for slightly different reasons.

What makes it particularly easy to read "the analogies re. various people ('language groups') in the UK and on the Continent" as racist is Tolkien's rather glib "Oh, these parallels only come up because I had to 'translate' these languages into some modern counterpart" explantions tied to his "actual history" conceit. But when you look at the languages themselves, it's plain that the correlations really aren't that neat.

Complicating the picture (not clarifying it, really, nor mollifying such concerns as yours) is the fact that, in the scope of Tolkien's larger mythology, the Third Age of Middle-earth is just a snapshot in time. So the behavior of the vast majority of Numenoreans at the end of the Second Age, for instance, isn't too dissimilar from that of the Haradrim at the close of the Third Age. In other words, the Numenoreans were the "bad guys" of the Second Age; the Haradrim are merely the "bad guys" of the Third Age, and Tolkien posited very little about why, or what came before or what came after.

For that matter, the Elves (and the Sons of Feanor in particular) were the "bad guys" of the First Age -- and much more nasty of bad guys than either the Numenoreans or the Haradrim. So there's plenty of bad behavior to go around in all these people groups (including the Rohirrim, who can also be pretty darn cruel, too, only really "redeeming" themselves as a culture within the context of the War of the Ring) and only instances of heroism, in actuality.

For me, the bottom line is Tolkien's concern that any culture, regardless of race or tongue (even divine status), can become evil -- and that individuals are responsible for that, not cultures themselves.

At the end of the day, too, there's the Common Speech to deal with -- the idea that the Lingua Franca of Middle-earth derives from none of those "racial" cultures at all, and is most closely associated with Hobbits, who are probably the most disenfranchised people group in Middle-earth. So to an extent, I read LotR as a commentary on the issues that Sykes brings up rather than merely an exponent of them (though, inescapably, they are that, too).

So how odd is it that the LotR soundtrack has moments of unabashedly sentimental, almost weepy "Celtic" music, given pervasive 19th and early-mid 20th c. ideas about "races" in Ireland and the UK?

Yes, the fact that Jackson and Shore got into the act mixes things up a bit. While both of them were Tolkien enthusiasts going in to the project, neither of them had really studied much about the mythology behind LotR, so they were operating from some serious lack of knowledge. (Shore, for instance, throughout the entire production, had never heard of "The Music of the Ainur." Kind of odd for a composer of Middle-earth melodies, wouldn't you say?)

And how ironic that Tolkien has his paradise in the West - like the Irish.

Yes. And this is a subject that's been almost totally ignored in critical circles. It's as if scholars just take for granted that Tolkien fixates on the West (most likely because of the association with Arthurian legend) without dealing with the subject criticially. My personal feeling is that Tolkien deliberately chose the West not because it was Arthurian (and therefore "English") or Irish (and "Celtic") but because it allowed him to distance the mythology from the Judeo-Christian myth, which is wholly centered in the East. The only nod to that whatsoever is the origin myths of the Atani, the first men, who were birthed somewhere in the East and wandered west following their unspecified "fall" and corruption by Melkor. As with the languages, there are things about this that trouble me, but the actual details complicate the issues more than clear them up. Tolkien's invention was a very complex thing, and not easy to put into any specific box.

I hope all this isn't too much of a reply, and that it doesn't seem argumentative. For me, it's just nice to have seriously-minded people bring up real, concrete issues with Tolkien's work, and to have the opportunity to discuss them.

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I wonder if the hobbits are "disenfranchised" - they seem "hidden," and being ignored by many of the great and powerful has allowed them to shape their lives along their own lines, not someone else's. Like the Ents.

Yes, perspective makes all the difference there. While a Gondorian like Boromir would chafe in a tiny, remote corner of the world like Hobbiton, benignly content to be ruled by some distant Human king, it suits the Hobbit disposition quite nicely. And in light of that, realizing that Tolkien saw himself not as a Numenorean but as a Hobbit sheds further light on the issue of race.

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Greg: While we're deconstructing Tolkien, I find myself wondering who says that any one "Age" began here or ended there, in the first place? Could we not just have a single time, and count the years forwards or backwards from a single spot, and leave it at that?

In the real world, we sometimes distinguish between one ancient "age" and another on the basis of technological development -- the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, etc. Even THOSE categories are somewhat vague, and the emergence of a new technology in one region does not necessarily corelate to the technological development in any other areas -- but there is still something quasi-objective about them.

Can we say that there is anything quasi-objective about the division of "Ages" in Tolkien's world? And even if we can, can we necessarily divide them with precision, to the year? Because that certainly isn't what we have done in the real world!

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Greg: While we're deconstructing Tolkien, I find myself wondering who says that any one "Age" began here or ended there, in the first place? Could we not just have a single time, and count the years forwards or backwards from a single spot, and leave it at that?

Well, from a real world perspective, sure. But not in Tolkien's fantasy. Each of the first three ages were very clearly defined by specific events; and the elapsed time of the Second and Third ages, in years, were precisely worked out by Tolkien. Only the First Age had fuzzy edges.

Can we say that there is anything quasi-objective about the division of "Ages" in Tolkien's world?

Well, the divisions weren't objective at all. They were quite subjective, but very specific.

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Greg Wright wrote:

: Well, the divisions weren't objective at all. They were quite subjective, but very specific.

But that just begs the question, Whose subjectivity? Who is it that determined (in Tolkien's mythos) that THIS event was worthy of separating any two ages and OTHER events were not worthy of same? (Sorry, I've still got that last Lemony Snicket book on the brain. It makes a big, big deal out of the idea that there is no "real" beginning or ending, apart from the highly personal and subjective facts of birth and death, and that ALL of us live "in media res", in a sense, because the rest of the world is always there before us and always there after us.)

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Whose subjectivity? Who is it that determined (in Tolkien's mythos) that THIS event was worthy of separating any two ages and OTHER events were not worthy of same?

Well, Tolkien, duh. ::pinch:: In the context of the story, Tolkien would say "The Elves," probably. This site has an online summary of the major events and timelines (and it's not speculative; it's cribbed from Tolkien's own timelines).

My mistake -- even the First Age had very specific dates attached; it was the period between the Creation and the first rising of the sun that was subject to fuzzy time (naturally).

The First Age begins with the rising of the sun (how's that for subjective?) and the "waking" of Men, and ends with the recapture of the Silmarils (hence, "The Silmarillion), the downfall of Morgoth, and the establishment of Numenor.

The Second Age ends with the first defeat of Sauron.

The Third Age, of course, ends with the War of the Ring.

Theologically, it makes sense that the ages of the world would be marked by the downfall of spiritual principalities rather than physical cataclysms. Tolkien probably envisioned that the Fourth Age concluded with Christ's birth, the event that he saw as the "great eucatastrophe" of the human story.

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Re: Peter's "internal" delineation of the Ages

All three Ages can be said to end with a "last alliance", or some sort of coming-together of previously separate groups. At the end of the First Age, it is the Valar who come to the rescue of the Eldar in their war against Morgoth. The second age, as Greg notes, ends with the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. And the Third Age ends with a final alliance of Godor and Rohan.

Without digging too deeply into the history, I think that one could argue that these three alliances represent the most significant comings-together in the history of ME. The corresponding victories are also probably the most significant victories of Men and Elves, as they are the only defeats of the reigning Great Enemy (Morgoth, Sauron, Sauron again). Only the Numenoreans' (partial) defeat of Sauron is as significant, but it wasn't really completed until the Last Alliance which ended the Second Age.

The magnitude of these victories, and the significance of the alliances of Elves, Men, and Valar that won them, provide an "internal" or historical basis for the end of one Age and the beginning of another.

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i think that the union at the end the first and second ages were surely of the valar and elves and men (1st) and of the men and elves (2nd), but I think the subject is hazy in the third age. When you look at it from different angles, there are many smaller unions at the end of the third, such as Aragorn and Arwen (elves and men) the fellowship (all the free people of ME), there may be some union of the hobbits and the outside world (i don't know that much about the end of LOTR), and there was, of course, Rohan and Gondor, and the Dunedain and the rest of men. Also, not necessarily a key part of the end of the third age, but I thought it was interesting how Tolkien took a character like Gollum/Smeagol, and made him a (very) physical embodiment of how good can be corrupted so absolutely (even though, I guess Smeagol wasn't all that nice to begin with).

All in all, I think the end of the third age was just much more detailed than any other periods in Tolkien's library.

Also, a little off topic, does anyone have any info. on anything post lotr. Meaning anything immediately afterword, the "end of the world", or anything concerning the Numenorians who attacked Valinor. (I seem to recall something about a big pit they all fell into or something like that.)

Edited by dallegre

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If anyone is particularly interested, I just did a presentation on The Children of Hurin at the One Ring Celebration in Burbank this last weekend. It was titled, "Why We Should Care About The Children of Hurin," and was very well received. A PDF of the detailed outline of my presentation is available online.

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Thanks for posting that online, Greg. Very interesting.

I found helpful the Adam Tolkien quote, in which he tries to say a bit more about how COH is something new. It's not a completely satisfactory answer, but it's still helpful.

I'm now particularly curious as to the ways in which CT hopes to make the book more accessible than TS. Unlike the History of Middle Earth series or The Unfinished Tales, TS is unburdened by editorial asides or multiple versions of the same story fragment. Still, many folks struggle with TS, primarily due to difficulties with the tone and style. Adam Tolkien claims that COH "is entirely in the author's words - apart from very minor re-workings of a grammatical and stylistic nature". I surely hope that this is accurate, and that COH is basically a fleshed-out and re-ordered Silmarillion. But I don't see how this makes a more accesible work.

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I surely hope that this is accurate, and that COH is basically a fleshed-out and re-ordered Silmarillion. But I don't see how this makes a more accesible work.

Revisit the version of Narn i Hin Hurin that's published in Unfinished Tales and I think you'll get some grasp of what he means. There are good stretches of 20 and more pages in that version unbroken by references, notes, commentary, and manuscript analyses. It's in those passages that you'll glimpse what CT hopes to accomplish with CoH -- and I think he will.

FWIW, the official line from Houghton-Mifflin is that NO ONE will get a review copy until the book comes out. They want readers to be able to enjoy the experience unsullied by the academic and critical carpings that will likely ensue, and I think the strategy is wise. I, also, even as a critic, want to be able to read the whole thing as a "virgin," as it were.

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A thought-provoking take, in the Asia Times. Edited by CrimsonLine

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I just finished the book today. I thought it was basically a reworded version of the originals in TS and the book of lost tales, but still very interesting. I thought the asia times article had a weird take on it, saying that Tolkien's life work was "to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the west." I never really thought of it that way.

There was an interesting conversation in the book between Turin and Gwindor (i think) where Turin argues that the Valar arent' going to come and they should, in a nutshell, do as much damage to Morgoth as possible till they get killed.

The book had some good original artwork too.

And Greg, do you think you could elaborate on Christopher Tolkien's objections to the movie? it seemed like he was a bit ticked about all of it.

Edited by dallegre

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Greg, do you think you could elaborate on Christopher Tolkien's objections to the movie? it seemed like he was a bit ticked about all of it.

Well, as I understand it, CT's basic objection is that the books should be books. That's fine for him to say, of course, since his career and livelihood have been pretty much set because of his father's notoriety; but in Tolkien's lifetime, it can hardly be said that he profited wildly from his work. So, from where I sit, Tolkien knew exactly what he was doing when he sold the film rights to The Hobbit and LOTR -- he was providing for his family, and taking the risk that his works would be unfilmable (he hated the artform as well).

We won't be seeing a film version of CoH in CT's lifetime!

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